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After decades of disastrous failure, it should be clear that there is little chance of resolving the Palestinian issue if we continue to consider Palestinians as a cohesive entity with which contacts are conducted via some sort of “leadership.” Efforts should therefore be devoted exclusively towards individual Palestinians and towards allowing them, as individuals, free choice as to how to chart their future.
These efforts should be channeled in two major ways:
- Generous monetary compensation to aid the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian residents in territories outside the confines of the 1967 “Green Line,” presumably — but not necessarily — in the Arab/Moslem world.
- Making the offer of compensation and relocation directly to the heads of families and not through any collective Palestinian entity or organizational framework.
It should be stipulated that an offer of financially-induced relocation made to a Palestinian political leadership would be vehemently rejected. But the approach suggested here would be made directly by an Israeli (or possibly an appropriately constituted international) entity, to the individual recipients. The scale of the offer would be on the order of the average lifetime earnings in some relevant host country for each family head — i.e. the GDP per capita of such a country multiplied by at least say 40-50 years. (As a comparative yardstick, this would be equivalent to an immigrant bread-winner arriving in the US with 2-2.5 million dollars.)
Thus, each household breadwinner would be confronted with three possible choices: life under the rigors of Israeli rule; life under the harrowing hardships of some Palestinian regime, with commensurately dimmer prospects of a better life for the family; or a sum of money equivalent to the life earning of an average citizen in countries that could serve as an appropriate alternative place of residence – probably, but dominantly Arab or Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, or countries with significant Arab/Moslem communities in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
It is of course possible that elements in the existing Palestinian institutional establishment would embark on a campaign to dissuade their constituencies from accepting any financial package for relocation. However, such harassment could be used to expose the cynicism of Palestinian “leaders” who lack the capability and perhaps even the desire to create a state, but threaten those who want to break the cycle of perpetual refugee-hood.
In fact, there is evidence that supports the plausibility of this proposal. A November 2004 survey commissioned by the Jerusalem Summit and conducted by a reputable Palestinian polling center and in conjunction with a well-know Israeli institute to gauge Palestinians’ willingness to emigrate permanently in exchange for material compensation. Significantly, the poll showed that only 15% of those polled would absolutely refuse to accept any such inducements, while over 70% stated that they would be willing to take the bargain.
The Acceptability of the Offer to the Prospective Host Countries
For the prospective host countries the proposal has considerable potential economic benefits. The Palestinians arriving at their gates will not be impoverished refugees, but relatively prosperous individuals with the equivalent of decades of local per capita GDP in their pockets. Indeed, for every hundred Palestinian families received, the host country could count on around fifteen to twenty million dollars going directly into the private sector. Absorbing 2,500 new Palestinian family units could mean the injection of up to half a billion into local economies often in dire need of such funds.
There are 2.5 to 4 million people in the West Bank and Gaza. The numbers of families/households (the relevant unit for receipt of compensation) would be in a range of 600,000- 800,000.
If each family head were offered a relocation grant of between $ 150,000 to $200,000, this would be the equivalent of several decades, and in some cases centuries, of GNP per capita earnings in any one of a wide range of prospective host destinations (see table). Indeed, even in terms of the average overall world per capita GDP (about $7000 U.S.) – such grants would be the equivalent of up to a quarter of a century GNP per capita. (As mentioned previously, in comparative terms, this would be equivalent to a bread winner arriving in the US with 2-2.5 million dollars.)
In terms of current estimated GNP per capita in the Palestinian administered territories, the grants would be the equivalent of between over a half-century to more than a century of income.
The aggregate cost of the proposal would be between $45 – 80 billion (depending on whether the relocation grant was $100,000 or $200,000). Extending the relocation to the entire Palestinian population would effectively entail doubling the required outlay to $90 –160 billion. Israel’s GNP is around $150 billion. If it were to declare that it was prepared to devote annually 4-6% of its GNP to the resolution of the Palestinian problem – i.e. offering an annual sum of $6-9 billion – the entire project could conceivably be implemented within a decade and a half. (It should be noted that the current Oslo process, with all the enormous expense it has entailed, has been going on for almost two decades, producing only catastrophic failure and tragedy.)
If international donors such as the USA, the EU or OECD countries matched Israel’s input dollar-for-dollar (which would involve contributing only a miniscule portion of these countries’ GNP), the implementation could be sped up considerably, possible within 5 years, without undue burden on the world economy.
In any case, the overall cost of the “two-state-solution” would, in all likelihood, be far greater. For even discounting the increased defense cost that Israel would have to incur if required to return to indefensible pre-1967 frontiers, there would still be huge costs. These would include the immense outlays required for the establishment and maintenance of the required physical infrastructure, and bureaucratic and organizational frameworks needed to make the micro-landlocked Palestinian state viable. Also, it should not be forgotten that if a Palestinian state were ever to be acheived, Arab regimes currently hosting Palestinian populations might begin impatiently (possibly coercively) pressing for their return to their newly established homeland. The cost of relocating a large “refugee” population in the nascent Palestinian state could be huge.
The time has come to recognize that for well over half a century, the Palestinians have been unable to produce a credible, competent, and capable leadership with the capacity to achieve statehood. This is in spite of highly favorable conditions such as robust international support and political pressure brought upon the Israelis.
The choice made time and again by this leadership is to prioritize the elimination of Israel over the creation of “Palestine.” This effort seriously undermines the moral and political bona fides of the Palestinian narrative, which has become the basis not only of Palestinian claims for statehood, but also for the much of the international acrimony directed against Israel.
The time has come to remove the noisome issue of Palestinian statehood from the international agenda, and address the enduring Palestinian humanitarian predicament (after all, there is a majority Palestinian state, which is Jordan); to abandon the approach of relating to the Palestinians as a collective entity. Instead we should treat them as individuals deserving a better fate than the one thrust on them by cynical leaders and neighboring states.
The time has come for imaginative new initiatives to defuse and disperse one of the global community’s most volatile problems.
Offering individual Palestinian families generous relocation grants is a solution that will dramatically and immediately improve the lot of individual Palestinians; defuse the Palestinian humanitarian “crisis”; ensure the continued survival of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; and inject billions of dollars of funds into the economies of low income nations who welcome the Palestinians.
This is a proposal that deserves debate and discussion. As it stands now, the Palestinians have nothing to lose but the chains in which their leaders have imprisoned them.
Martin Sherman is the 2009-2010 visiting Israeli Schusterman scholar at USC/HUC-JIR and the academic director of the Jerusalem Summit. He lectures at Tel Aviv University, served in Israel’s defense establishment and was a ministerial adviser to the Yitzhak Shamir government.
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